The decision of the European Commission on alleged state aid to Alitalia expected for 30 April. For that day, the EU Antitrust technicians should condemn our country to take back all (or a large part) of the 1.3 billion euros of bridging loans disbursed in 2017 and 2019. If Brussels were to find our country guilty on both tranche of public money, the airline would be required to return 1.6 billion, including interest. The Minister of Economic Development Giancarlo Giorgetti gave an indication on the timing during the question time in the Senate.
In the Senate
The minister – responding to a question from Senator Giulia Lupo (M5S) on the Alitalia dossier and on the relaunch project through the public newco Italia Transport Aereo – said that the government is committed to working on the necessary discontinuity because the new subject (i.e. the newco, ed) cannot be held accountable for the overall debt position of the previous company, which has been in extraordinary administration for almost four years. In particular – he continued – the so-called “bridging loans” which if judged in some way illegitimate I believe on April 30 must in some way be returned or attributed to Italia Transport Aereo.
The two folders
We have no specific comments to make, they explain to Corriere della Sera by the European Commission. Alitalia is currently the subject of two in-depth investigations that continue and we cannot anticipate anything on the timing or outcome. The first, opened in April 2018, concerns the 900 million euros disbursed in two tranches in 2017, the year in which the Italian airline ended up in extraordinary administration after the rejection of the employees of the relaunch plan proposed by Etihad (shareholder at 49 %). Brussels had to start the investigation after the complaints of Ryanair, Iag (holding company of British Airways, Iberia, Vueling, Aer Lingus and Level) and the Slovenian Adria Airways (which in the meantime went bankrupt). At the end of February 2020, the second investigation arrived for the 400 million bridging loan disbursed at the end of 2019.
The orientation of the Brussels technicians explain to the Courier service European sources to condemn Italy for illegally disbursing state aid. It is debated whether the ruling should concern both loans or only the first, and more substantial, of 900 million euros, but no final consensus has yet been reached on this. In any case, at that point Alitalia should quickly repay up to 1.6 billion euros in the event of a double conviction (1.3 billion in loans plus around 300 million in interest on the loan). Money that the company does not have since it travels with reduced liquidity.
In the Senate, Minister Giorgetti also spoke about the negotiations between the Italian government and the EU Antitrust to start Italia Trasporti Aereo, the new public airline that should take over from Alitalia. The discussions for now do not find an agreement on some aspects such as the company discontinuity and the Linate slots. Giorgetti specified that he did not see a discriminatory attitude towards the Italian state. Even the story of the slots (with the sale of up to 50% of take-off and landing rights, ed) does not appear at the moment dissimilar to that in some way imposed on other subjects in Europe.
The head of the Mise explained that it is clear that if a limited number of aircraft is proposed, the number of slots must somehow be consistent. This is the position held by the European Commission. ITA intends to leave with 45-47 aircraft, less than half of the current Alitalia. The negotiations with Brussels for the fastest conclusion are continuing indefinitely even in these hours, with a view to achieving as soon as possible a structure that guarantees the interests of the Italian state, but is at the same time consistent with European regulations, said Giorgetti.
The business branches
Among the hypotheses remains that of renting one or more company branches of Alitalia, in compliance with the principle of discontinuity. This option continues to be on the table, although it is not the first one we are dealing with. In any case, Giorgetti concluded, it will be ensured that the operating conditions of ITA and of the related operations for the acquisition of company assets are no less favorable than the similar operations approved with the airlines of the other Member States without forgetting the situation of previous crisis in which Alitalia has been for years now.